Yesterday, I saw Baby at the 4-Star Theater. I noticed that they had sandwich board sign on the sidewalk with a movie poster for Sparrow. That Johnnie To film was my favorite from the Chinese American Film Festival in November. Granted, I only saw three films at the festival but I caught several films from the Johnnie To retrospective at the PFA earlier this year. I've become a fan of To's works and Sparrow is no exception.
Sparrow, which is part comedy & part quasi-musical, tells the story of a gang of pickpockets that go up against a gangster (and former pickpocket himself) to win the freedom of the gangster's mistress. It sets up an improbable but entertaining climax set in a downpour involving rival gangs of pickpockets using razor blades to steal the key to her freedom. Filmed in Hong Kong over a three year period, Sparrow is a visual tribute to the Hong Kong that To grew up in but is fast giving way to modernization.
"Sparrow" is a slang term for a pickpocket. I think in Gangs of New York, Leonardo DiCaprio's narration describes Cameron Diaz's character as a sparrow. In that film, she was posing as a housemaid while stealing valuables from her employer although I think she was a pickpocket as well.
Here is a link to a CAAM posting announcing Sparrow's opening at the 4-Star.
Let me write a quick note on Baby which was described as an Asian American Boyz n the Hood by me (and later I discovered the film poster). I saw Boyz n the Hood when it came out in 1991. Actually, I remember seeing it in 1992 in Vancouver, British Columbia. That film deeply affected me probably because I had not seen gang life depicted so powerfully. I can't say realistically because I've never been in "da hood."
For some reason Baby was set 20 year ago. The action alternates between 1986 and 1993, I believe. It didn't really add much to the script except to allow for 80's cars and pagers to be prominently featured. Regardless, I think I'm jaded about films about gang life. I can't point to anything wrong with the film but it wasn't as powerful as I was expecting. Ron Yuan, as Baby's gangsta mentor, stood out in the cast. With a melodic voice, pumped up biceps and the 80's hair metal look, he cuts a wide swath through the film.
Baby wasn't a bad way to spend a rainy, Sunday afternoon but it reminded me of muscle car not firing on all cylinders - it's still a sweet ride but you can feel that it's not running quite right.
31 minutes ago